We’ve loved having Bellevue as a new partner in Pianos in the Parks. And it seems the feeling is mutual. “I said ‘yes’ immediately to Pianos in the Parks because it’s a completely joyful event,” says Mary Pat Byrne, the Art Specialist for the City of Bellevue. A longtime advocate of using art to build community, Mary Pat points out that the response so far has been phenomenal. “You can’t even go near one of these pianos without getting some sort of story.”
Mary Pat, Bellevue gave a rousing welcome to Pianos in the Parks, thanks to Mayor Claudia Balducci (photo above), Gary Wasdin (Director of the King County Library System), KINGFM’s Lisa Bergman, Ben Klinger from Classic Pianos and the CEO of Laird Norton Wealth Management Bob Moser. How did you decide where to put the pianos?
MPB: We have 46,000 people coming to work in downtown Bellevue every day, 11,000 people who live in the downtown, and of course there are all the shoppers, moviegoers and people eating out. The pianos are another way for people to connect, so we’ve placed two of them in the downtown, with the third piano in an often-visited location outside the downtown:
- Downtown Bellevue Park [“Eye-Guy from Outer Space” piano by artist Vikram Madan];
- Ashwood Plaza, next to the Bellevue Library [“Facebook Reality” piano by artist Larine Chung];
- Bellevue Botanical Garden [grand piano with etching by artist Eve Alyson].
When people first see the pianos, they’re surprised and delighted. And then when they find out the pianos will be out there for a whole month, they can’t believe it.
What’s been happening around the Bellevue pianos since then?
MPB: Here was the scene at the Ashwood Plaza/Library piano last night on my way home from work: a family strolled by, stopped to listen, and then joined the pianist at the bench with their toddler! Over at the Botanical Garden, I saw a girl celebrating her Quinceañera come pose at the piano in her party dress. People at the gift shop there tell me how they love hearing piano music all day long.
What we’re also seeing is some really talented students getting out to play the pianos, some of them from organizations that we fund like the Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra and Music Works Northwest.
That explains it — why we’ve had so many Pianos in the Parks contest entries from the Bellevue pianos! What else is going in Bellevue?
MPB: This past weekend, we had close to 300,000 people in downtown Bellevue for three different arts fairs: BAM ArtsFair, the 6th Street Fair and Bellevue Festival of the Arts. We’re also getting ready to install the final components of Bruce Myers’ “Rain Catcher,” a large outdoor sculpture in Newport Hills. We’re looking forward to all the movies in the parks this summer, and we’re starting to plan ahead for next year’s Bellwether sculpture exhibition, June to Oct. 2016.
What’s the biggest change in Bellevue since you’ve been the city’s Art Specialist?
MPB: The biggest change by far has been diversity. Our population now has 42% cultural and ethnic diversity, with people from China and then India making up a growing percentage. And a surprisingly number of people now living in Bellevue — close to 40% — have English as a second language. This means we’re seeing lots of new festivals and cultural events. For example, last Saturday night at Bellevue High School, three of China’s top musicians performed, as they go on their U.S. tour. This was an incredible opportunity to see them in a very small, intimate venue.
Any events being planned around the pianos?
MPB: Yes, we’re working on that. Local organizations have already asked us to reserve time for them at the pianos. The Bellevue Library is also making available piano music in sheets and books for anyone who wants to come by and play the piano at Ashwood Plaza. They have a few books on display just as you enter the library, and one of the librarians told me there is A LOT more on the second floor.